In the United States, tens of thousands of Americans receive accusations of sexual assault against them. While there is often merit behind these allegations, some may be completely false or otherwise exaggerated to an extreme. Someone accused of this type of sex crime face a potentially lengthy and arduous uphill battle. The consequences of a sexual assault conviction, no matter the degree, can result in a squandered reputation, job termination, hefty fines, and even jail time. Not only that, but the convicted person will need to register themselves as a sexual offender for the remainder of their life. Some sex crimes may result in a more severe punishment than others. For example, the crime of aggravated sexual assault will bring about much more serious consequences than a general sexual assault charge. But what does aggravated sexual assault mean exactly?
If you have been accused of this crime, it is important that you understand what it means for you and what you can do to protect your future. In this post, our experienced Denver sex crimes defense attorney, Jeff Weeden, will address the definition of aggravated sexual assault, what it entails from a legal standpoint, and more.
What Does Aggravated Sexual Assault Mean?
Many people ask the question: “What is the difference between sexual assault and aggravated sexual assault?” First, let’s cover the definition of sexual assault in Colorado. Sexual assault requires nonconsensual sexual penetration or intrusion of another person. This includes rape (vaginal and anal), forced copulation, and penetration by use of a foreign object. Sexual assault can occur in a number of ways. Some examples may include:
- Causing or forcing the victim to submit without consent.
- Engaging in sexual activity with an incapacitated, unconscious, or highly intoxicated victim who cannot provide consent.
- Acting with the knowledge that the victim falsely believes the perpetrator to be his or her spouse or significant other.
- Performing inappropriate sexual acts under the false premise of medical treatment or examination.
When it comes to aggravated sexual assault, the crime must involve certain aggravating factors. In Colorado, the factors depend on if:
- The victim is 14 years old or under.
- The victim is either 15 or 16 and is at least 10 years younger than the perpetrator.
- Another person aided in carrying out the assault.
- The victim experiences serious bodily injury.
- The perpetrator has a history of violent crime.
- There is involvement (or threat or involvement) of a deadly or dangerous weapon.
- The perpetrator is on probation, parole, bond, or otherwise serving time for a felony at the time of the assault.
- The victim is pregnant at the time of the assault.
If convicted of the crime of aggravated sexual assault, the defendant can expect much harsher penalties than those for sexual assault.
Is Aggravated Sexual Assault a Felony?
Colorado assault charges fall into three categories or “degrees.” Only first and second-degree sexual assault incorporate the crime of aggravated assault. So, if the crime involves any of the aforementioned aggravating factors, it will fall into either the first or second degree, depending on the circumstances surrounding the case. Both first and second-degree aggravated assault charges are felonies. Meanwhile, third-degree assault would be a misdemeanor.
Aggravated Sexual Assault Penal Code in Colorado
The crime of aggravated sexual assault is generally a class 2 felony. The penalty for aggravated sexual assault in Colorado depends on the circumstances of the case and whether or not the assault was in the first or second degree. First-degree assault occurs when there is involvement of a deadly or dangerous weapon, like a gun or knife, for example. Second-degree assault does not involve a deadly or dangerous weapon. (Learn more about Colorado Open Carry Laws here.)
If in the first degree, meaning the defendant used a deadly weapon to conduct the sexual assault or rape, it becomes a crime of violence. The penalty for this may include:
- 16 years to life in prison.
- Between $5,000 and $1,000,000 in fines.
- Defendant must register as a sex offender.
If in the second degree, meaning the assault did not involve a deadly weapon, the penalty may include:
- 8 to 24 years imprisonment.
- Between $5,000 and $1,000,000 in fines.
- Defendant must register as a sex offender.
What Happens if a Minor is Charged with Aggravated Sexual Assault?
According to Colorado Revised Statutes § 18-1-801 (2016), the responsibility of a person for his or her conduct is the same for minors between the ages of 10 to 18 as it is for persons over the age of 18, except to the extent of modified responsibility under the provisions of the Colorado Children’s Code (title 19, C.R.S.). The court may not find any child under the age of 10 guilty of any criminal offense.
The case of a minor (meaning the defendant is below the age of 18) will generally occur in Juvenile Court. However, in very serious cases, the defendant may be tried as an adult in criminal court. If there is a direct filing to district court, this means that the minor will be sentenced as an adult. If there is a filing of petition, the case will continue in juvenile court with hearings, investigations, pleas, and so on. In juvenile criminal cases in Colorado, there must be an adjudicatory trial within 60 days if the case isn’t resolved before then.
If the court finds the minor not guilty of aggravated sexual assault, that is the end of the case and proceedings will cease. If they find the minor guilty, this can lead to either deferred adjudication or adjudication. Essentially, this means they will either receive a sentence or have that sentence deferred. There will be a presentence investigation to help determine the actual sentence. Following this will be a sentencing hearing that must occur within 45 days of the adjudicatory trial.
It is important to remember that Colorado’s age of consent (regardless of the sex of either party) is 17, but there are exceptions. Read our article “Romeo and Juliet Law in Colorado” for more information regarding the state’s age of consent laws.
How To Defend Yourself of Accusation of Aggravated Sexual Assault
There are ways to fight back against these allegations and charges. Here, we will provide an overview of some common defense strategies that can help you beat Colorado sex charges.
The first thing your attorney will look into is the validity of these charges. It is not uncommon for people to be falsely accused of sexual assault, whether it be due to mischaracterization of consensual contact or misidentification by the victim, among other scenarios. Unfortunately, some allegations are even due to malicious intent by the alleged victim. Follow this link to read more about false sexual assault allegations.
Other defenses include a lack of evidence. A knowledgeable lawyer will work to build the strongest possible case that you did not commit these acts due to lack of evidence. This can potentially clear you of all allegations.
Mental incapacity is another possible—and very real—defense strategy. If your attorney can prove that mental limitations prevented you from making coherent choices based on sound judgment, you may not face the full penalties of the law.
Yet another defense strategy is proving that the sexual activity in question was, in fact, consensual. In most incidents of sex crimes, lack of consent is essential in making a charge against you. (Of course, this does not hold in cases of child sexual assault.) However, if you know that the plaintiff consented to the allegations against you and your attorney can prove that, your charges may get reduced or dismissed. This can be difficult to prove, but a skilled attorney who has successfully represented other defendants in your situation can help argue your case.
Get the Right Representation, Get WeedenLaw
If you’ve been accused of aggravated sexual assault, don’t panic. Even if there’s physical evidence, it doesn’t mean you’re doomed. However, you still should never underestimate the consequences and potential ramifications of an accusation like this. With the right representation on your side, you have the best chance at fighting and potentially avoiding these charges.
Jeff Weeden has been practicing criminal defense law in Colorado since 2005. As a respected, caring, and aggressive Denver criminal defense lawyer, he helps countless clients accused of sexual assault protect their rights and freedoms. To get him working for you today, call WeedenLaw at 720-893-3831 or visit our website to schedule your free initial consultation.